Bill of Rights Defense Campaign

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January 9, 2008

Please Forward Widely.

Tell Your Senators to Let the "Protect America Act" Expire!

Just before the December recess, the Senate came dangerously close to a floor vote on the Senate Intelligence Committee's version of S. 2248, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act. That bill was touted as a "fix" of the so-called "Protect America Act" (PAA, or more accurately, the Police America Act). The PAA was rushed through Congress last August, legalizing executive branch domestic wiretapping without warrants.

See how your Senators voted on the PAA here.

Warrantless wiretapping started BEFORE 9/11

It's incredible that even after learning that the Bush Administration began its warrantless wiretapping program as early as February 2001 -- well before 9/11 -- Congress would consider rubberstamping the administration's and telecom companies' FISA violations. But that's exactly what Congress is considering. The Senate Intel Committee's S. 2248 not only falls short of restoring critical Fourth Amendment privacy protections, but it would grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that enabled the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program, endangering the lawsuits that have been moving through the courts.

Call or Meet With Your Senators Today

The Senate will be back in session on January 22. In the meantime, call your senators. (See Sample Script and Talking Points below.) Find both of your senators' Washington office phone numbers at www.senate.gov OR find their district office phone numbers on their websites or in your local phone book. You may also call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask the operator to connect you to both of your senators.

Meet with your senators. From now through January 21, you may find your senators in your community or nearby at a town hall meeting or another public event, a prime opportunity to gather allies and tell your senator face-to-face to let the PAA sunset!

Senate Returns January 22

The week of January 22, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to bring the flawed Intelligence Committee bill (containing retroactive immunity for telecoms) to the Senate floor for a vote. A Judiciary Committee version of the bill contains Fourth Amendment fixes and lacks a provision for telecom immunity. Although that bill is far better than the Intelligence Committee version, it is subject to floor amendments that could weaken the bill. Not only that, the president has promised a veto of the bill if it doesn't grant immunity to the telecoms. The president can't veto the natural expiration of a law -- so letting the PAA sunset is our best chance at ending warrantless wiretapping.

Sample Phone Script:

I urge Senator _______ to restore Fourth Amendment protections of Americans' private communications and emails by letting the Protect America Act expire on February 8. Only if that move fails should the Senate consider the Judiciary Committee version of S. 2248. There is no national security reason for granting immunity to telecommunications companies that broke the law, as the Intelligence Committee's bill would do: The only justification is to protect the guilty and to hide the truth from the American people.

Additional Talking Points:

  • Congress's passage of the Protect America Act was a slap in the face to Americans like me who expected Congress to stop the executive branch's unconstitutional, warrantless wiretapping of Americans. I call on Senator ________ to look into evidence that the Bush administration began its wiretapping program in February 2001, according to research by the New York Times, and not after the September 11th attacks, as the administration has claimed. Let the Protect America Act expire on February 8th, and work on restoring our Fourth Amendment rights.
  • After two years of the Bush administration stonewalling Congress about its warrantless wiretapping program, Congress has not obtained the Bush administration's legal justification for the program, despite subpoenas. It's time for the Senate to stop compromising with the administration.
  • The President promises to veto any bill that does not give retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies that enabled the administration's warrantless wiretapping program, but immunity is unacceptable. It is imperative that the American people learn the truth about the program that has compromised the privacy of all of us, with no probable cause and no individual warrants. And that truth will be most honestly revealed through a full and fair judicial process for telecommunications companies.
  • The Protect America Act allows the administration to wiretap Americans' conversations and emails as long as it claims it isn't "targeting" the American. However, no satisfactory answer has been given to Congress about what the administration does with the records or wiretap recordings. I don't want to be wiretapped, whether I'm the target or not.

What Happens Next

Find legislation summaries and links here. In November, the House passed H.R. 3773, the RESTORE Act of 2007, which does not contain an immunity provision. If the Senate passes one of the two versions of S. 2248, the FISA Amendments Act, then a conference committee will be assigned to negotiate a compromise between the House and Senate bills for the House and Senate to approve and send to President Bush for his signature or his veto. President Bush has repeatedly promised to veto any bill that does not grant retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies that supported the administration's warrantless wiretapping program.

What happens next depends on all of us working in coalition to let Congress know that the Fourth Amendment must be restored, and that restoration can start with allowing the President's flawed "Police America Act" to sunset!

Thank you for all you do!

Bill of Rights Defense Committee:

Nancy Talanian, Director
Hope Marston, West Region Organizer
Ben Grosscup, East Region Organizer
Michael Berg, Field Organizer
Barbara Haugen, Administrator